Thursday, July 27, 2017



The Kedushas Tzion[1] related the following fabled story:
The Yetzer Hara (Evil Inclination) once appeared before the Heavenly Court and complained that he was unable to fulfill his mission. “How am I expected to convince people to listen to me when my name is “Evil”? Whenever I approach someone and try to seduce him to sin he counters that he will have no connection with an evil being. How can I do my bidding with such a bad reputation?”
The court hearkened to his complaint. “From hereon we will change your name. No longer will you be known as the “Evil Inclination”, but as the “Ba’al Davar”[2].”
Sometime later the Evil Inclination returned to the celestial courts dejected and disheartened. “My new title is not good enough,” he cried. “Now wherever I try to prey upon someone he argues, ‘lav ba’al devroim didi at[3]’.”
The heavenly court pondered the issue and then replied. “We have a new title for you. But this one is practically guaranteed to work. From now on you will be called ‘Hayntige Dor’ (Today’s Generation). When people try to resist your temptations, you will be able to convince them to sigh and think “Oiy hayntige dor! What can be expected from us already; we live in such a lowly generation!” You will be able to approach people and convince them that in such times we can no longer afford to be old-fashioned. They will think that they must be liberal and progressive in order to keep afloat with the times. With this new name you will be very successful in ensnaring many souls to iniquity and sin.”
The Kedushas Tzion concluded that, with this in mind, we can appreciate a novel understanding of the words of the prayer (Psalms 12:8), “Atah Hashem tishmirem, titzrenu min hador zu liolam – You, G-d, will guard them; You will preserve each one from this generation forever.” Dovid Hamelech was praying that G-d protect us from the detrimental feeling of “this generation”, i.e. the feeling that we cannot live up to the levels of our forbearers because we live in such a lowly generation.

There is a well-known thought attributed to Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Barditchev. Although we refer to the holiday of Pesach by that name, the Torah refers to the holiday as “Chag hamatzos”. The Barditchiver explained that we refer to the holiday as Pesach[4] to recall the kindness G-d performed when he ‘skipped over our homes’ on the eve of the final plague, the slaying of the Egyptian firstborns. However the Torah refers to the holiday as “the Festival of Matzos” to recall our selfless dedication and faith in G-d when we marched forth from Egypt en masse into the barren desert, with no provisions for our families other than the matzoh which was baking on our shoulders in the intense desert heat.
 Rabbi Avrohom Pam zt’l noted[5] that it is our responsibility to imitate the Ways of G-d. Just as G-d titled the holiday to reflect the merits of Klal Yisroel, so too must every Jew constantly seek and espouse the merits and greatness of the Jewish people.
The Tanna D’vei Eliyahu speaks glowingly about the intense pleasure G-d has, as it were, when we speak kindly of our fellow Jews.
Rabbi Pam notes that it is common to hear people, even people of stature, bemoaning the spiritual degeneration of our time. They bemoan the fact that our generation is lowly relative to previous generations. But it must be realized that G-d has no pleasure from such negative speech.
Rabbi Pam explained that he was not referring to one who is rebuking or admonishing others. In such a case it is surely fitting to explain to someone (in a genial and gentle fashion) what he has done wrong.
In fact, Chumash Devorim is chiefly Moshe’s rebuke in which he admonished Klal Yisroel prior to his death. Moshe did not mince words as he explicitly delineated their mishaps and errors throughout their forty year sojourns in the desert. “How can I alone bear your contentiousness, your burdens, and your quarrels?[6]” But, at the same time, Moshe constantly conveyed to the nation their innumerable value and greatness, and that G-d values and loves them. His words also contained great encouragement and emotional support. “You shall not fear them, for Hashem, your G-d – He shall wage war for you.[7]” Such rebuke is vital for growth.
 Rather, Rabbi Pam explains, he is referring to those who are standing together and ‘conversing about things’. While speaking they begin to discuss people and events that transpire and they mention the spiritual erosion of our time.
One who wants to find fault with Jews, “Iz duh vos tzu g’foonin- There is what to find.” However, when the purpose of one’s words is nothing more than to speak negatively, he is doing a great disservice to the entire world. Rabbi Pam states that, “Perhaps this malady is one of the causes for the delaying of Moshiach!”
It is analogous to a father who has a wayward son, G-d forbid, who causes him much heartache and grief. If a person approaches the father and tells him about some pranks or shenanigan that his son pulled, it will cause him much inner pain – even though the father is aware of his son’s rambunctious behavior. However, if a person would approach the father to tell him how his son helped him and acted nobly, the father would be extremely appreciative. In fact, that comment may very well give the father more pleasure than hearing something nice about another child who has a better reputation, because it is so rare.
In heaven, they await to hear words of defense and merit on behalf of Jews, especially by other Jews. It is not a matter of being blind to the truth of our faults, but a matter of focus and perspective. What does one choose to see? Unless one has the ability to correct and rectify evils that are committed, he should not speak negatively about other Jews, but should seek out their positive traits and focus upon them.  

There are undoubtedly many challenges that the Torah world is confronted with, and many of those challenges are very serious. However, there is no dearth of merits that we possess either. The fact that the Torah world has rebuilt itself as it has after the destruction of European Jewry by the Nazis is the greatest testament to our resiliency and eternal greatness. It all depends on what we focus on.

The Tur notes that Tisha B’av and Seder night (the first night of Pesach) always fall out on the same day of the week. Although, prima facie, it would seem that these two nights are polar opposites, in truth there is an underlying bond that connects them. Seder night represents the zenith of our greatness, while Tisha B’av symbolizes our nadir. But on Pesach we also recall the servitude and bitterness that preceded our ascent to greatness and redemption. The marror plays an integral role at the Seder and must be eaten before the festival meal.
Tisha B’av falls on the same day of the week as Pesach to remind us that the mourning and pain of Tisha B’av is temporary. Like Pesach, there will yet come a time when the pain of Tisha B’av will be reduced to a memory which precedes the festive meal which celebrates the coming of Moshiach. The only difference is that we are still eating the marror of Tisha B’av – which has been brutally bitter - and have not yet gotten to the festive meal.
But for us to finally enjoy that festive meal we need to believe, not only in G-d, but also in ourselves!
The Arizal noted that Pesach is a conjunction of the words, “peh sach – a soft mouth.” While we are shackled under Egyptian bondage not only were we physically and emotionally in exile, but our ‘speech’ was in exile as well. This not only refers to our ability to pray and cry out to G-d, but also our ability to see the good of our brethren and to speak about our merits as a nation/family.   
We have to see the good of others and have optimism in ourselves! We must believe that we can be the catalysts for the coming of Moshiach, despite the fact that our generation has degenerated to a level far lower than our ancestors. Although that is indeed true, it is for that very reason the merits of our action are far more powerful and valuable.

In the words of the great scholar and pedagogue, Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld zt’l[8]:
“Our problem is not that we don’t have the opportunities to grow. It is that we don’t have the proper will and desire to grow. In all circumstances, there are always excuses. The kids were sick. The boiler broke. I had to work overtime. I was so tired when I came home and I had to spend time with the family. We know the excuses and they’re all valid excuses. But they don’t really explain our failures.
“We fail because we despair of being successful. We fail because we do not believe that we have it within us to succeed. It is not the interposition of obstacles that prevents us from succeeding but our own lack of confidence and determination and sheer will.
“We fail because we are making a mistake. Because the truth is that we do have it within us to succeed. Because the truth is that each of us possesses the most incredible divinely-empowered instrument that can help us smash all obstacles and scale all peaks. It is called the human will. And when there is an honest will, we can transport a stone to Yerushalayim.” 

The Shabbos prior to Tisha B’av is titled, “Shabbos Chazon – The Shabbos of vision”. The name is derived from the opening words of the haftorah which recount the bitter prophecy of Isaiah when he chastised the nation, exhorting them to repent from their iniquitous sins. But it also represents a vision of the future. It is a vision of hope and optimism of what can, and will, be. It is vision of a utopian world which allows us to see beyond out faults and foibles, so that we recognize the true greatness we and every Jew possesses. It is a vision which we pray every day that we will witness[9], “May our eyes envision Your return to Zion in compassion.”
If we are compelled to sit on the floor and mourn this Tisha B’av let us realize that although the night has been long and ominous the festive meal is right after the marror.

“You will preserve each one from this generation forever”
“You shall not fear them, for Hashem, your G-d – He shall wage war for you”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

[1] Bobover Rebbe, Harav Benzion Halberstam zt’l hy’d, yahrtzeit is 4 Av
[2] A Talmudic title for a litigant/person with whom to reckon
[3] A Talmudic expression which loosely translates into, ‘I have nothing to do with you.’
[4] literally ‘passed/skipped over’
[5] Haggadas Mareh Cohain, p. 136
[6] 1:12
[7] 3:22
[8]“Rabbi Freifeld Speaks”, by Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Reinman, Artscroll, p. 25
[9] “V’sechezenah aynaynu” recited before Modim in Shmoneh Esrei

Thursday, July 20, 2017



Rabbi Mordechai Finkelman shlita, the beloved Mashgiach of Yeshivas Ohr Hachaim in Queens, was for many years the ‘spiritual guide’ here in Camp Dora Golding. Rabbi Finkleman nostalgically related that when he was a teenage bochur he was privileged to have a connection with the previous Skolya Rebbe, Rabbi Dovid Yitzchok Isaac Rabinowitz zt’l[1].

Rabbi Finkelman explained that his maternal grandfather, Mr. Moshe Hilsenrath a’’h, was one of the Rebbe’s attendants in Europe prior to the outbreak of the Second World War. [In fact, his grandfather would accompany the Rebbe to the mikvah each morning while they were under Nazi occupation. Rabbi Finkelman’s grandfather had been a German government worker until the Nazis took over the government. With his blue eyes, blond hair, and government uniform, when Nazis saw him accompanying the Rabbiner each morning, they assumed he was taking him into custody. Incredibly for over a year, he would often accompany the Skolya Rebbe to the mikvah unhindered each of those mornings, right under the noses of the Nazis.]
When the war broke out and the Nazis began their nefarious campaign to destroy Jewry, they primarily targeted the rabbis. The Nazis reasoned that if they destroyed the Jewish leadership it would be far easier to break the resolve of the masses. Because of that the Skolya Rebbe was compelled to remain in hiding for two years.
After more than a year under Nazi occupation, Rabbi Finkelman’s grandfather was somehow able to procure a visa that would allow his family to emigrate to America. He presented the visa to the Rebbe, urging him to escape. Knowing the added danger he personally faced, the Rebbe accepted the gift for himself and his family. He also blessed Rabbi Finkelman’s grandfather that the entire Hilsenrath family (wife and five children) would meet again in America.
Rabbi Finkelman related that when his grandmother recounted the story to him she said, “When the Rebbe gave us that blessing, your grandfather already pictured himself in America reunited with the Rebbe. But I wasn’t as convinced, and I accepted upon myself to die in Europe for the sake of the Rebbe.”
Through a series of miracles, the Rebbe and the Finkelman family were indeed reunited in America, albeit with only four of the five children. But the Rebbe was adamant. “I told you we would ALL be reunited, and with G-d’s help that will yet occur.” It later emerged that the fifth son had joined the British army. While with the army, he was sent to Palestine to help maintain order with the Israeli-Arab tensions. As soon as he could he deserted the British army and joined the Irgun to fight for his brethren rather than against them. Eventually the Rebbe’s blessing was indeed fulfilled and the entire family was reunited.  

Rabbi Finkelman related that at the end of the Skolya Rebbe’s life (he died when he was eighty), he was very frail. He was a holy person, who for many a year never slept in a bed, but would fall asleep in midst of his learning, despite his fragile health. He possessed an uncanny level of devotion and love for Torah, and the Torah lectures he would relate were often lengthy, mystical, and deep[2].
On one occasion Rabbi Finkelman, then a seventeen-year-old teen, convinced a ‘non-chassidic’ friend of his to accompany him to the Skolya Rebbe’s Shalosh Seudos tish[3]. After the Rebbe concluded his discourse, the two young men obtained permission to be present when the Rebbe recited havdalah[4].
When the Rebbe concluded havdalah the two seventeen-year-old boys had an opportunity to ask the Rebbe for a blessing. Rabbi Finkelman’s friend requested a blessing to have a chayshek (intense desire) for Torah study. When the Rebbe heard the request he smiled and replied, “Some people request a blessing for livelihood, so we give them a blessing for livelihood. Some people request a blessing for health, so we give a blessing for health. But Torah is the greatest gift that we possess in this world. One cannot acquire proficiency or erudition in Torah from a blessing. That would be tantamount to selling it cheaply. The only way to love Torah and feel connected to Torah is to learn, even without a feeling of connection and devotion. If one pushes and goads himself to learn even without a desire to do so, he can be assured that eventually G-d will bless him that he will indeed eventually obtain a chayshek and love for learning.

After an arduous forty years traveling through the desert, Klal Yisroel was finally camped on the threshold of the Promised Land. It was at that time that the tribes of Gad and Reuven became concerned that their portion in the land would be insufficient for all of their possessions. “The Children of Gad and the children of Reuven had abundant livestock – very great…They said (to Moshe), “If we have found favor in your eyes, let this land be given to your servants as a heritage; do not bring us across the Jordan”.”
When Moshe heard their request he was very distressed. He perceived it as a means of exorcising themselves from the need to fight the Canaanites alongside the rest of the nation. The Nesi’im (Princes) of Gad and Reuven quickly clarified that that was not at all their intention. “They approached him (Moshe) and said, ‘Pens for the flock shall we build here for our livestock and cities for our small children. We shall arm ourselves swiftly in the vanguard of the Children of Israel… We shall not return to our homes until the Children of Israel will have inherited…”
Rashi quotes the Medrash which notes an acerbic critique of the character of the tribes of Gad and Reuven. “They were more concerned about their money than their children, because they mentioned their cattle before their children. Moshe replied to them, ‘Not so! Make your primary secondary and your secondary primary. First build cities for your children, and afterwards pens for your flock’.”
Rabbi Henoch Leibowitz zt’l[5] asks how it was possible that the tribes of Gad and Reuven, distinguished members of the generation who were privy to all the miracles of the desert, could have prioritized their money over their children?
Rabbi Leibowitz explained that we must conclude that originally those righteous people indeed prioritized their children far above all else. Their primary focus and desire was to raise their children as righteous G-d fearing Jews. However, to raise children one requires money and resources. As the Mishna[6] states, “If there is no flour there is no Torah”. Therefore, in order to have sustenance with which to provide their families, the tribes of Gad and Reuven raised cattle and invested much time and effort into their properties.
As time passed, without realizing it, they began to become more passionate and more connected to their resources and money. Because of their relentless involvement in their pursuit for resources (which they only invested in so that they could provide for their children) eventually they unwittingly and unknowingly began to prioritize their money even more than their children.
One must realize just how influenced he is through his actions. Whenever one invests in something there is an invariable bond and passion created for that thing, even if one claims not to have any level of added connection.
This idea is very poignant and applicable. Anyone who spends much of his/her day involved in the pursuit of earning a livelihood must realize that by our very nature we become inextricably connected to what we invest in. If the great leaders of the tribes of Gad and Reuven were able to lose a certain measure of their sense of priorities, we surely have to be wary of our own sense of priorities. Undoubtedly most people will assert that their children and families are their priority. However, a rational person who wants to truly be candid with himself must constantly reckon whether he has lost focus of his true priorities. Has his investment in his livelihood blindsided him from what is truly important?
At the same time, one must realize the sense of connection and passion one can foster through investment. In regard to spiritual pursuits and Torah learning, the way to appreciate the sweetness of Torah and love of performing mitzvos, is by investing in them.
To paraphrase the timeless words of Winston Churchill, if we want to love serving G-d, “We have nothing more to offer than blood, tears, toil, and sweat.” The more the investment, the more we will appreciate its timeless greatness.

“If there is no flour there is no Torah”
“First build cities for your children, and afterwards pens for your flock”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

[1] I thank the Mashgiach for reviewing this text.
[2] Rabbi Finkelman related that when he would take leave of the Rebbe on weeknights after such lectures, the Rebbe would ask him if he taped it, noting that he should listen to it a few times before he would be able to comprehend the full depth of.
[3] Shalosh Seudos, the third and final meal eaten on Shabbos, is a very holy and unique meal, especially in the courts of the Chassidic Maters. The word tish, which literally means table, refers to the Rebbe’s public meal eaten with his Chassidim. The Rebbe often relates deep and penetrating insights based on the weekly Torah portion. 
[4] The Rebbe’s havdalah was a sight to see, as the Rebbe had many interesting customs, based on kabbalah.
[5] Chiddushei Halev
[6] Avos 3:21

Thursday, July 13, 2017



A number of years ago, our (then) family’s wonderful neighbor, Scott Kaplan, related to us the following personal story:
“A few months ago, I was invited to a wedding of close friends. Though the bride and groom were from New York they were celebrating their wedding in a resort village in Mexico, south of Cancun. The entire city is comprised only of hotels and beaches, and is absolutely stunning. I, and five other guests who were Shomer Shabbos, together arranged all of our Shabbos needs.
“I called the Chabad Rabbi in Cancun and he told me that as long as food is processed (baked, cooked, etc.) and I do not have raw vegetables or fruits, border patrol should not give us any problems.
“I was carrying most of the baked goods, including challah, kugel, and chicken, in a carry-on bag. When I arrived at Customs and was given the declaration form to fill out, I noticed that the very first question asked about possession of food. I asked the agent if that included processed foods. He replied that I should show him what I had. I opened up my bag and pulled out a challah which was on top and showed it to him. He looked at it and replied, “You have three choices: You can eat it, throw it out, or give it to me.” I looked at him in disbelief, “Are you serious? But I thought…” He coldly repeated his words, “You can eat it, throw it out, or give it to me.”
“I was very upset but I told him that I wanted to finish filling out the rest of the form first. He pointed me towards a table off to the side. I sat down, and began to pray inaudibly that G-d please help us keep Shabbos properly.
“When I finished filling out the form, I walked back to the agent. He asked me for my passport, which I handed to him. As he flipped through it he began conversing with another custom’s agent in Spanish. I could not understand what they were saying but he kept pointing and mentioning Israel (I have been to Israel quite a few times recently).
“In my mind I thought that now for sure he would never let me take the food. But then he looked up at me and said, “You’ve been to Israel?” I nodded. “Are you Moslem?” “No!” “Are you Christian?” “No, I’m Jewish!” “You’re Jewish,? Do you have one of those“… he pointed to his head in a circular motion. “Sure,” I replied, removing my hat and showed him my kippah. He looked at me and said, “You know around here everyone believes in G-d.” I replied excitedly, “I believe in G-d!” He smiled warmly and said, “That’s sababah[1]” “Does this mean we’re okay?” I asked nervously. By now his demeanor had completely changed, “Oh we’re totally okay. He then gave me a high five and waved me through. I grabbed my bag and hurried on[2].
“On two more occasions, I was stopped in the airport and my bags were searched, but both times they waved me on without further incident. The Custom’s agent drastic change of attitude was truly incredible. Never underestimate the power of prayers and the merit of Shabbos!”

Parshas Pinchas contains a listing of the offerings that are brought during each holiday throughout the year, including the daily Tamid offering and the offerings of Shabbos. Compared to the rest of the holidays, the Shabbos offerings are quite paltry. And on the Shabbos day: Two male lambs in the first year… The elevation offering of each Shabbos on its Shabbos…[3]”     
The lexicon used regarding Shabbos is unique. In regard to no other holiday does it use an expression of bringing the offering on its own day. For example, it does not say, “the Pesach offering on its Pesach”, or “the Succos offering on its Succos”. Why is this unique expression used regarding Shabbos[4]?
 Rabbi Chatzkel Abramsky zt’l offered the following homiletical explanation: The offerings of Shabbos are smaller than other holidays, to symbolize that the most important component of the offering of Shabbos is, “on its Shabbos”, i.e. to observe Shabbos properly, by safeguarding its laws, seeking to understand its greatness, and observing the spirit of the day to the best of one’s ability.
This thought is in tandem with the famous quote from Rabbi Shlomo Karliner zt’l[5]: “Master of the World, You gave me fish for Shabbos; You gave me meat for Shabbos; Please give me Shabbos for Shabbos!”
What is the meaning of the Karliner’s prayer?

 “Rabbi Yitzchak said: All of the issues of Shabbos are doubled…. Its offering was doubled (as it says), “On the day of Shabbos two lambs; its punishment is doubled… its reward is doubled…its warning is doubled…its song is doubled…[6]
Why is everything connected with Shabbos doubled?

When the prophet Yeshaya speaks of comforting the beleaguered and aggrieved Jewish nation following their exile he exclaims[7], “Comfort, comfort My people, says G-d!” The Medrash comments[8], “They were stricken doubly, and they were comforted doubly.” Why was the Jewish nation punished doubly, and subsequently required to be comforted doubly?
Rabbi Yitzchak Kirzner zt’l explained that mortal man is composed of two diverse components – chomer (physical, tangible corporeal body) and tzurah (intangible life-force, spiritual, personality).
The ultimate goal of man is to raise himself to such a level wherein his chomer is subservient to his tzurah, in that his entire being (including his physical self) is subject completely to the Will of G-d. Such a person’s behavior is dictated by his logic, and he does not allow himself to be blindly drawn after his emotions and desires.
At the time of the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash, G-d wrought retribution against Klal Yisroel, not only because the nation abused its essence on a physical level and defiled its chomer, but also because as a result of their iniquities their tzurah became sullied and spiritually debased. Not only did they use their physical bodies to sin but they contemplated ways to sin, using their cognitive abilities to think of ways to sin. Thus, the nation sinned on a dual level, and their double punishment reflected that duality. The ultimate consolation must therefore be doubled, in order to console us on a physical and spiritual level; to console both body and spirit.

With this idea in mind perhaps we can understand why every aspect of Shabbos is doubled. The greatness of Shabbos is that the holiness of Shabbos does not only envelope our tzurah - our spirit and souls, but it also affords us the opportunity to elevate and sanctify our chomer – the physicality within ourselves and the world. On Shabbos, we laud G-d for the gift of being able to[9] “Eat rich foods, drink sweet drinks, for G-d will give to all who cling to Him, clothes to wear and bread of allotment, meat and fish and all delicacies.”     
The Gemara[10] relates that on Shabbos we are granted a supplementary soul. Rashi offers a most intriguing explanation of the effect of the supplementary soul. He explains that the special soul grants us “a broadened heart for rest and joy, and to be open wide to be able to eat and drink without his soul becoming repulsed by it.” Normally when one partakes of a particularly filling and fatty meal he feels somewhat ‘animalistic’[11]. But on Shabbos one can indulge more than usual and not worry about that animalistic feeling, because his added soul compensates by injecting him with an added dose of spirituality.
With this idea in mind we can also understand why in our Shabbos prayers there is much mention of the ultimate redemption and our eventual return to rebuilt Jerusalem and the rebuilt Bais Hamikdash[12]. Our descent into exile was inextricably bound to our defilement of our chomer and tzura, both are bodies and our souls. The double consolation which must include both body and spirit is reflected and symbolized by Shabbos, the day of physical AND spiritual bliss.
Shabbos is a window into the euphoric Messianic world when this world will be completely devoted to G-d, on all levels. When we observe Shabbos, we raise ourselves beyond the trivialities and sufferings of exile and focus on a world devoid of physical pain and spiritual sin. It is for that reason that the laws of the Three Weeks of mourning for the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash are suspended on Shabbos. We sing songs joyously during those Shabbasos, and even if Tisha B’av itself coincides on Shabbos we eat meat and drink wine during that Shabbos.
The exile represents the tragedy of the wandering collective Jewish body and soul, and on Shabbos wherever a Jew is he is at home in the palace of the King.  

The Karliner prayed that he not only merit experiencing the physical delights of Shabbos, but also the spiritual bliss of Shabbos.  At times, one can observe all the laws of Shabbos properly, yet not feel the idyllic sense of elevation that Shabbos provides. One must pray that he merits that greatness, as we state in the Mussaf prayers of Shabbos, “Those who taste it merit life, and those who love its precepts have chosen greatness.”   

“All of the issues of Shabbos are doubled”                             
“Each Shabbos on its Shabbos”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

[1] An Arabic word, it’s Israeli slang- the equivalent of the American, “Cool” 
[2] Scott added that as he hurried away he worried that perhaps his hasty departure showed a lack of gratitude. He returned to the desk and thanked the agent again, and wished him ‘shalom’. The agent looked at him quizzically, “What’s Shalom?” Scott couldn’t help but laugh that the man was familiar with the word “sababah”, but had never heard the ubiquitous “shalom”.
[3] Bamidbar 28:9
[4] The only exception is in regard to Rosh Chodesh it also says, “This is the elevation offering of each month on its month.” But in regard to that verse the Gemara (Yoma 65b) derives a law from those words.
[5] Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach a’h repeats this thought when he sings about Shabbos
[6] Medrash Tehillim (92); quoted by Rabbeinu Bechaye, parshas Pinchos
[7] Yeshaya 40:1; opening verse of haftorah for Shabbos Nachamu (Vaeschanan)
[8] Yalkut Shimoni
[9] From the song Yom Zeh Mechubad customarily sung on Shabbos day
[10] Beitzah 16a
[11] In Yiddish the word is ‘grub’; it does not translate well into English
[12] The majority of the mystical and beloved song Lecha Dodi speaks about the redemption, and the supplementary Shabbos prayer of Ritzey added to Grace after Meals concludes with a prayer for the consolation of Zion and the rebuilding of Jerusalem.  

Thursday, July 6, 2017



 “While for the most part I’m in terrific physical shape, I have ten tumors in my liver and I only have a few months left to live.
“I am a father of three young children, and married to the woman of my dreams. While I could easily feel sorry for myself, that wouldn’t do them, or me, any good.
“So, how to spend my very limited time?
“The obvious part is being with, and taking care of, my family. While I still can, embrace every moment with them, and do the logistical things necessary to ease their path into a life without me.
“The less obvious part is how to teach my children what I would have taught them over the next twenty years. They are too young now to have those conversations. All parents want to teach their children right from wrong, what we think is important, and how to deal with the challenges life will bring. We also want them to know stories from our own lives, often as a way to teach them how to lead theirs….
“Both the lecture and this book are my attempts to do exactly that.”[1]

Commissioned by Balak, King of Moav, Bila’am sets out to curse the unsuspecting Jewish nation. But when Bila’am ascends a mountain and peers at the Jewish camp, he is divinely overwhelmed by the holiness and regality of the Jews. Unwittingly he spews the most beautiful blessings, lauding the Jewish nation, and foretelling their eventual triumph over all of their adversaries at the end of days.
During one of his bouts of prophesy Bila’am calls on the Patriarchs with misplaced nostalgia. “Who can count the dust of Yaakov or a quarter of Yisroel? My soul should die the death of the ישרים (upright), and may my end be like his[2].” 
Who are the “upright” whom Bila’am refers to? The Ba’al Haturim explains that the numerical value of the wordישרים   (560) is equivalent to the numerical value of the words אבות העולם (Patriarchs of the world)[3]. When Bila’am eyed Klal Yisroel he envisioned how their founders, the patriarchs, died with tremendous honor and respect. He pined to have similar honor accorded to him when he died.
Seforno, commenting on Bila’am’s words, explains that Bila’am was saying that if he would be able to die like the upright ones he would be willing to die immediately, so that he could merit eternal life in the afterworld.
The Chofetz Chaim notes that Bila’am wanted to die as a Jew, but he didn’t want to live as a Jew. Bila’am recognized that the life of a Jew is fraught with challenges and struggles. A Jew’s life is rigidly regimented with myriad laws and expectations. Throughout his life he is encouraged to never grow complacent with his accomplishments, and is always expected to keep striving.
The believing Jew is catapulted by the knowledge that it is all worth it because when he leaves this world he continues on to the world of truth where he will reap the benefits of his efforts. Therefore, the Jew does not fear death because he knows he is only going home. But to the non-believer death is overwhelming and frightening as he is unable to have the same confidence in his future.
Bila’am desired to die with the serenity and confidence that the patriarchs had when they departed from this world, but he did not wish to alter his life to live with their principles and morals. The Chofetz Chaim concludes, “Ubber es iz nit kayn kuntz tzu shturben vee a Yid; der grester kuntz iz oys tzu lebben aleh yuhrin vee a yid – But, it is no ‘trick’ to die like a Jew; the greatest ‘trick’ is to live all of one’s years like a Jew.”

On another occasion, the Chofetz Chaim quipped, “It’s very difficult to make a living. They say that people need a livelihood so that they have what to live with. But I wonder if they have what to die with!”
In Koheles, the wisest of men states[4] that there is a time to be born and a time to die. Why does he not say that there is a time to live? The Chofetz Chaim explained that life is so short and fleeting that there is hardly any time to live!

One of the most well-known prophecies of Yirmiyahu involved the prayers of our Matriarch Rachel. The Midrash[5] describes the fascinating scene that transpired as the Holy Temple was burning. G-d Himself was weeping, as it were, "Where are my children, my prophets, my priests? I feel like someone whose only son died suddenly under his wedding canopy." G-d then instructs the prophet Yirmiyahu to summon the patriarchs and Matriarchs so that they could intercede on behalf of their exiled children.
Avraham is the first to speak. He rips his hair, rents his garments, and places ashes on his forehead and laments, "Master of the World, You granted me a child when I was a hundred years old. Yet, when You asked me to sacrifice him on the altar I did so without hesitation." But G-d would not hearken to his call. Yaakov then appeared before G-d and declared, "I worked for my duplicitous brother-in-law Lavan for twenty-one arduous years. Upon leaving I was confronted by my brother Eisav who wanted to kill me and my children. Yet I stood before them and was prepared to die to protect them." Still G-d was not pacified. Moshe arose and stated, "I spoke on behalf of Your people for forty years, and yet, I died before entering Israel. Let my death substitute for them and enable them to return to the Holy Land."
Finally Rachel arises and implores on behalf of her children, "Yaakov had initially worked for me for seven years. My father Lavan cajoled me to allow Leah to trick Yaakov. I could not bear the shame that Leah would have experienced had Yaakov seen through the sham. So I gave up my husband to my sister to spare her from shame and embarrassment.” The Medrash relates that it was Rochel’s plea that broke the decree.
What was it about the cry of Rochel that afforded it greater potency then the prayers of other the Patriarchs and Matriarchs? Although they all spoke on behalf of their children, they all focused on their willingness to die for the sake of G-d’s Name. Although their merits were incredible, they were insufficient to alter the harsh decree written against their descendant. Rochel however, argued that she was willing to live to sanctify G-d’s Name. She was compelled to live with the consequences of her magnanimous deed for the rest of her life. She gave up her place as the sole wife of Yaakov, and even in death she was not buried adjacent to Yaakov.
“Thus said G-d: A voice is heard on high, lamentations and bitter weeping - Rachel weeps for her children. She refuses to be consoled for her children, for they are gone.
Thus said G-d: Stay your voice from weeping and prevent your eyes from tears, for there is reward for your efforts, says G-d, and they shall return from the land of the enemy. There is hope for your future, declares G-d: Your children shall return back to their boundaries.[6]"

Parshas Balak is always read the Shabbos before the commencement of the Three Weeks of mourning, which begin with the fast of Shiva Asar B’Tamuz. All the pain we suffer, including the fact that we are still in exile, is testament to the fact that as a nation we are not adequately sanctifying G-d’s Name. There is no doubt that throughout the millennia our ancestors, and we, have sanctified G-d’s Name as they marched to their deaths with “Shema Yisroel” on their lips. But perhaps we have not yet fulfilled our obligation to live our lives with Shema Yisroel on our lips. 

“My soul should die the death of the upright”
“Rochel weeps for her children”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah, Teaneck, NJ
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor, NY

[1] Introduction of “The Last Lecture”, by Randy Pausch
[2] 23:10
[3] Ba’al Haturim then adds that the numerical values of the last letter of the name of each of the patriarchs  "אברהם יצחק יעקב" (מ+ק+ב = 142)  is equivalent to בלעם, a reference to Bila’am’s subsequent words, “And let my end be like his”.
[4] Koheles 3:2
[5] Eichah Rabbah 24
[6] Yirimyah 31:14-15